You all saw my lake-front view, so now I’m showing you all another patch of the property. The land has been in my family for just over one-hundred years, and most all of those trees you see lining the road and across the way were planted by my great-great-grandfather, Albion Hobson. There are hundreds of trees on the land. When I set out to write a new post, I thought, “I’m going to be specific and count every tree.” Well, I didn’t get very far. Not only is half of the property dense forestland, but there were more important things I had to attend to.
I had to rake. I still have to rake. The majority of the trees are maple. Massive, towering, century-old (and older) maples. If it sounds like I’m complaining, I am. Every day this week, I’ve ventured into the fall wonderland equipped with my tool of choice (a leaf blower) and set out to clearing as many leaves as I could. I know, I know — It can’t be that hard with a leaf blower, right? As it turns out, it’s actually easier to physically rake them than it is to stroll behind a rising plume of leaves, cringing, whispering apologies to the hundreds of worms being so traumatically blown away from their new homes.
I did this most mornings, drearily glancing up at the trees, all too aware of the thousands of leaves that had not yet fallen. More than once I said to myself, “This is stupid. I’m going to let them all fall, then I’ll deal with them.” And yet, I continued to work, even when I heard the far off rumbling in the sky – the promise of rain (and subsequently more leaves for me to rake/blow.)
Of course there’s a lesson in all of this. There has to be, otherwise I’m just a crazy woman talking to worms and cursing trees. Okay, perhaps I am a crazy woman talking to worms and cursing trees, but go with me for a minute.
I like to think, and I do honestly believe that everything has a purpose – that a lesson can be learned from most any situation. I try to draw parallels between the lessons and what I’m experiencing in my life. The title of this is “Faith Like the Fall,” and it came to me while I was hauling a pile of leaves into the forest. I didn’t actually know what meaning it had when I thought of it, but it stuck with me as pieces started to fall together like the leaves that taunted me by falling onto the land that I had just cleared.
There’s a reason why I’m not going to wait until all of the leaves fall to rake. Even though many of them have just fallen, the first layer of them have already begun to decompose, all wet and dense from the rain. Raking that first blanket is work enough, let alone allowing more sheets cover it until it’s a thick, colorful quilt covering the yard.
Now how does this all relate to my life?
This post is probably going to look strange coming after my last one, but sometimes I need to check myself. And part of that is admitting the struggles that I face.
In my last post I made an admittedly sweeping and definite comment about forgiveness. Or, at least, as of now, looking back, I get a sense of… ignorance? I had just moved here, and for a moment, I was feeling good. Really good. Really confident and proud and ready to get on with my life. I thought I had left my troubles behind – that I had gotten over them. I said that I had forgiven the abuses I’d gone through, thinking that I wouldn’t be bothered with them anymore.
I was wrong. That’s the thing with head knowledge vs. faith-maturity. You know what you and others ought to do (i.e. abide in Christ, trust in His will) but without the faith-maturity, or faith at all, those things aren’t very easy to do. Sometimes my head knowledge (bible verses, C.S. Lewis quotes, other things I can say to make myself sound smart) is bigger than my faith-maturity.
I’m telling you all this, because I, like you, am not perfect. I struggle and falter, and I don’t want to make the impression that I think I don’t. I went back and read my last post and thought, “She had know idea what she’d be facing.” And I didn’t. I felt good for a little while, and that was nice, but I’ve recently been reminded that faith and forgiveness isn’t a one-time pill you take to make things better.
Jesus tells us not to forgive seven times, but seventy seven. No, I don’t think I am to forgive exactly seventy seven times, but I do think it goes to illustrate that it’s not just a sometimes thing you do. It’s a lifestyle. And here’s the part where I know what to do. I might forgive someone, but I am not forgiving. I am not Forgiveness.
I haven’t been legitimately abiding and trusting in Christ as a lifestyle. I do sometimes, but other times, I just choose to… ignore Him. And like the lake-effect chill that sweeps across the land, resentment and anger came right back in. And for me, what I had is like that first layer of leaves that have begun returning to the Earth. Unresolved pain and troubles have decomposed so much that they were a part of me.
When I was entering my teenage years, and throughout the rest of my life thus far, I was rejected by one of the most important people in my life. Kicked out, cast out, absolved of. For, as I always thought, and still sometimes do think, not being good enough. Not being the person I was “supposed” to be. For a long time I was turned off from Christianity because of the hard-nosed teaching I’d experienced. I had to “follow the rules” and if not, I would be cast into eternal hell-fire. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in God, it’s just that I believed that if I didn’t follow the rules, like I had already experienced in my life, I’d be rejected and I didn’t want to think about it. I wanted to ignore it. But even still, when I wasn’t a professed “Christian” I spent nights praying – pleading – for forgiveness of my sins. Desperate prayers that God wouldn’t leave me too.
It wasn’t until a few years ago that I heard a different message. My reaction was something like, “God… loves me? But… I didn’t follow the rules. He wants to help me? But… I didn’t follow the rules. He forgives me? Why would he do that, the rules–? What? The rules aren’t really rules? They’re the consequence of Christ manifesting himself in me, by living through me?” My mind was blown. It’s still magnificent to me. My world changed after that.
I changed after that.
Or have I?
I mean, when I choose to listen to God, and follow his lead, I am actively believing and trusting in Him. And like I said, other times… I just… don’t.
In that last post I told you all what we had to do. Throw our old selves away. Keep the faith, knowing full-well that pain was coming. I still say that.
What I’m telling you all is that it’s not enough to say it. A German theologian, pastor, and eventual martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a teacher of theology for years and years before he actually believed what he was saying. He had the head knowledge, but not the faith. Once he did believe, he was fervent in his belief – in the end he died for his faith and what he believed was right.
Even when I professed what should be done, not two weeks later, I found myself listening to those old voices of “You’re not good enough.” “You’re not worth it.” “You’re a waste of time.” No matter what I knew, I ignored it and listened to the darkness. And even then, I was in this odd middle ground of listening to the torment, but not letting it show. Sure, I hurt on the inside, but I wasn’t going to admit it.
I thought that crying would be weak. I’ve always thought that. Crying means you lost. That you weren’t tough. That you failed, and I didn’t want to fail again. Low and behold, it was after I gave into the pain that I felt better. I was able to clear my mind.
Now, there is a difference between mourning and wallowing. For a long time when I was younger, I wallowed. “I can’t do X because when I was 10 Z happened.” “I can’t do Y because I wasn’t given W when I was a little.” I stayed down. I was literally a downer. If it were four years ago – maybe even less – I’d still be frowning. This time around, I mourned. It was less “I can’t” and more “I can.” More like, “It is hard for me to have confidence because I was rejected when I was little, but that’s not going to stop me now.” This time my resolve felt more like a prayer. “Thank you, God, for always being here, for loving me, for forgiving me, for telling me I’m worth it,” because I do believe in His promises.
Suffering can breed strength. It wasn’t until I was a crying mess on the bed that those feelings of hurt started to fade, and I listened to the voice – that even when I had forsaken myself – didn’t leave. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t hear it before. For every verbal/mental punch delivered, I still heard the “You are worth it,” and “You aren’t a waste of time.” I chose not to listen. Faith-maturity vs. head knowledge. Instead of actually trusting what I knew and believed, I didn’t rely on the Truth.
I’ve raked 5 times. They aren’t now, and there are still hundreds more to fall, but eventually, most of the leaves will be gone. This makes it sounds like I’m saying, “Go out and work hard every day to forgive and love people. Put some effort into it.” That is not what I’m saying. I’m saying that I can’t just state, “Okay, I believe in God, now my problems are gone!” because things will still come. Leaves will still fall, and it takes more than just saying and knowing what you’re supposed to do to clean them up. I can watch the leaves from inside as I sip on a warm cup of hot chocolate and “know” that I need to rake them, but in the end, if I don’t do something about it – if I don’t make the choice to put on my hat and gloves and do it – they will pile up, and when I do finally do it, it’s going to be even harder than it would have been had I gone out and made it habit to clear them out every day.
I can’t look at God and say “Hm… I should use Him some time… nah, I think I’ll do things my way. BUT WAIT! I need Him for this!” and expect to not feel some kind of turmoil when the opposite ways of doing things go head to head.
With faith, I have to choose to throw the God-box away and choose to give God a home in my heart. I can have faith and still feel pain. I can suffer and still come out stronger. The constant Care and Love of God remains. I just can’t keep ignoring it.